# what's the difference between energy levels of electrons in physics and electron shells/orbitals in chemistry

I've just had a lesson on energy levels and the different wavelengths of photons emitted from exited electrons when they drop down energy levels and I was just wondering what the difference is between the electron levels and the electron orbitals/shells that I study in chemistry. Thanks :)

• They are the same thing. The structure of atoms is the same no matter what branch of science you are studying. Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 14:11
• @rstif350 thanks I asked my physics teacher and he said he wasn't sure if they were the same or not. Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 14:12
• I wouldn't say they are exactly the same thing but the underlying physics is definitely the same. A very short intro on atomic orbitals/molecular orbitals, here: physics.stackexchange.com/questions/293992/… The electrons in MOs can also absorb/emit specific wavelengths, see e.g. organic dyes: their colour is due to absorption of specific parts of the VIS spectrum.
– Gert
Commented Nov 23, 2016 at 14:20

Probably you learned that the energy levels can be labeled with an integer number $n = 1, 2, \cdots$ and that photons emitted from excited levels have frequency that depend on the the difference $1/n_{\rm final}^2 - 1/n_{\rm initial}^2$. That is actually not the whole story, if you want to describe the state of an electron you actually need three different numbers (four including the spin), Physicists often call them $n$, $l$ and $m$, but in Chemistry you may have heard of them as
There is a whole bunch of allowed transitions between these states (not only between states with diffferent $n$'s). For instance keeping all these quantum numbers the same, an electron still can flip its spin, emitting a photon with a wavelength of $\sim 21$ cm, which is one of the most useful tools to study the interstellar medium